At Woburn Golf Club in the early 1990s, Catriona Matthew played in her first Women’s Open as an amateur. At the time, the competition was still known as the Women’s British Open, and it wasn’t even a major.
The event to play in, according to Matthew, “felt like the pinnacle.” All the individuals I looked up to were there and they were all watching and playing. When I look back, it still seems enormous.
Matthew understands that such sentiment is more nostalgic than anything, even if it has been more than 20 years. The Women’s Open remains the top in the seasoned Scots’ eyes, but it now stands ten times higher.
Coming to these locations, where people have watched over the years and where the men play, she continued, “really elevates it to another level.”
The only venue in the men’s Open rotation to have hosted the women’s tournament was Royal Birkdale when the Women’s Open was given official LPGA major status in 2001. But since Turnberry joined the list in 2002, it has expanded to seven Open venues, including the Old Course at St. Andrews and Muirfield for the first time this week.
Of course, the Women’s Open’s visit to the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers’ residence has a distinct impact than past Women’s Open debuts.
Simply put, it feels bigger, possibly because it is.
Women could not become members of the exclusive, long-elitist Gullane Links until five years ago, thus they could only play the course as visitors. The club’s 800 or so male members voted on the matter the year before, but not enough votes—only 64%—were cast to reverse the discriminating rule’s 275-year history. With the caveat that “if the stance at the club should change, we would examine Muirfield as a location for The Open in the future,” R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers pulled Muirfield, a 16-time Open Championship host, from the men’s rota.
A second vote was required in March 2017 as a result of the R&A’s announcement and a massive outcry that, according to Golf Digest’s John Huggan, even included two packages full of handwritten letters from young children in elementary school asking the club why it despises women. At that point, members ultimately approved a new rule enabling women to join the club (this time with 80% of the vote).
Muirfield accepted 12 female members in July 2019 despite the fact that it took around two years (much less time than the club’s previous admissions process).
One of the first female members, Barbara Biggart, remarked, “I was thrilled, I couldn’t wait to come and play and be part of the club. “We were all given a warm welcome as new members. Being a part of the current transformation was enjoyable.”
Another participant, Lindsey Garden, said, “I was almost pinching myself.”
A large amount of money was invested in remodeling the ancient clubhouse to better accommodate women, who, in the opinion of member Douglas Cannon, have “enriched the mood of the club,” and there are allegedly now 20 women who have joined Muirfield.
This coming week ought to make it stronger.
The best golf course in the world will be played by [these female professionals], and they will be welcomed with open arms, said Garden.
As the top female professionals in the world hit the stage this week, Muirfield’s dubious past—it had earned the reputation as the “rudest golf club in the world”—and its eventual reckoning will likely be part of the conversation all week.
However, if Tuesday is any indicator, the rivals are ready to take part in Muirfield’s vindication.
The original vote was undoubtedly disheartening, but I imagine that was quickly overturned, and I believe they are now ecstatic to have female members, Matthew stated. I have a few pals that are members, you know. You simply need to look ahead rather than backward, in my opinion. Perhaps because golf originated in Scotland, we have more traditions today than we did in the past.
After playing Muirfield for the first time on Sunday, Brooke Henderson referred to it as “perhaps my favorite links that I’ve ever played.”
Henderson, a major champion at the Evian two weeks ago, said, “To be playing better golf courses and golf courses with this historical value like Muirfield — it’s hosted so many men’s championships, but the first women’s, to be playing this year, it really means a lot to all of us.”
3 in the globe added “It’s a lovely golf club and golf course, and so far, everyone has been incredibly kind,” said Nelly Korda.
Also saying, “It simply feels extremely amazing coming through the gates,” is current Open champion Anna Nordqvist
One player will feel particularly honored to leave via them.
Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo, Ernie Els, and Phil Mickelson are just a few of the notable Open champions who have won their maiden claret trophies at Muirfield.
The woman who wins the Women’s Open trophy on Sunday night will likely go down in club history as its most significant victor.
Some would even argue that Sunday’s victory will surpass the significance of Lorena Ochoa’s Women’s Open victory at the Old Course in 2007, which came seven years before the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews decided to accept women as members (though the golf courses had always been available to the public).
A Women’s Open champion at Muirfield would be a new high point for the sport as the women’s game continues to gain momentum.
Women’s golf is expanding so quickly, and Henderson said it’s “just a really great moment to be a part of it. We feel like we’re making a difference for future generations.”
“Any girls or boys who are playing golf may witness both the men and the women playing the same golf courses, which is excellent,” Matthew continued. We’re hoping to put on a fantastic performance here and encourage other individuals to pick up the sport.
Inspiration is nearly a given given the circumstances of this tournament, just like history.